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Take It Easy: The Full Story Behind Eagles’ Debut Single
Everett Collection Historical / Alamy Stock Photo
In Depth

Take It Easy: The Full Story Behind Eagles’ Debut Single

Opening Eagles’ debut album, Take It Easy was a career-making introduction to the group – but the song is not as laidback as it seems.


“I think it was the vistas of the southwest, and it was the beginnings of what became country rock,” Glenn Frey, of Eagles, said in 1992. “Take It Easy was the first Eagles song and it really was America’s, and everybody’s, first image of our band.” Released as Eagles’ debut single, in 1972, Take It Easy remains one of the band’s best-known songs and an emblem of the group’s early years.

Listen to ‘Take It To The Limit: The Essentials Collection’ here.

The originator: “He wrote the song and had become disenchanted with it”

In 1971, Jackson Browne was a young songwriter who had yet to release his first solo album. His major success so far had been the track These Days; written when Browne was 16, it was first recorded by Nico, on her album Chelsea Girl. The song was also included on early albums by Jennifer Warnes, Tom Rush and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

At the time of These Days, Browne was living in New York City and romantically involved with Nico. When the relationship ended, he returned to Los Angeles, where he had spent much of his childhood. It was at this point he met Glenn Frey. “We kept showing up at the same clubs and singing on the open-mic nights,” Browne has recalled.

Browne was working on a new song, intended for his own eponymous debut album. But something wasn’t quite right. “He wrote the song and had become disenchanted with it,” David Lindley, a fellow musician and later member of Browne’s band, has remembered. “He had sort of put it aside, put it on the shelf. And Glenn Frey, who is a very astute arranger and a student of songwriting, recognised that there was something in that song that was better than Jackson had imagined, and encouraged Jackson to get it off the shelf.”

A new band begins: “We were a good fit”

Eagles had formed in 1971. The first line-up was Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner; they had evolved into a standalone band following a stint as Linda Ronstadt’s backing musicians. “In those days we didn’t have enough money to put people in separate rooms, so Glenn and Don were rooming together and they each discovered the other could sing and was a great songwriter,” Ronstadt wrote in her 2014 autobiography. “Glenn used to call Don his secret weapon. He said, ‘I’m gonna do a band with Don. We’re gonna do a band together.’ I said, ‘That’s a great idea.’”

Eagles had signed to the new label Asylum, just as Jackson Browne had. At the instigation of Asylum’s founder, David Geffen, the newly-formed band went out to Aspen, Colorado, to develop their music. The heart of Eagles was their songwriters Henley and Frey, who had a lot of similarities in their respective backgrounds and careers, but also differences in approach and feel. “We understood each other,” Henley said in 2016. “We both loved cars. He had an old ’55 Chevy named Gladys that we used to ride around in. And we were just – we were a good fit, you know. I had strengths that made up for his weaknesses, and he had strengths that made up for my weaknesses.”

Completing the song: “He kept after me to finish it”

Now Eagles was established, they began thinking about material for their self-titled debut album, and that’s when Take It Easy came into the picture. “It was Glenn who remembered the song from some time earlier and asked Jackson about it one day,” Henley has said.

Frey kept pestering Browne, asking him about Take It Easy at regular intervals; Browne had got stuck on the second verse and it remained unfinished. Eventually, Browne invited Frey to collaborate. “He came up with this great ‘flatbed Ford’ thing,” Browne has said. “That’s a transformation made right there.”

“That was my contribution to Take It Easy, really, just finishing the second verse,” Frey has said. “Jackson was so thrilled. He said, ‘OK! We co-wrote this.’ But it’s certainly more of him. Sometimes, you know, it’s the package without the ribbon.”

The first album: “Extraordinary blend of voices”

Alongside the rest of Eagles’ 1972 debut album, Take It Easy was recorded in London, at Olympic Studios, and produced by Glyn Johns. Johns was initially unimpressed by Eagles when he saw them live; but, later, when he heard them in rehearsal, he loved the four-piece harmonies they sang. “There it was, the sound,” Johns said in 2013. “Extraordinary blend of voices, wonderful harmony sound, just stunning.”

When Johns came to record Eagles, he brought out this harmony aspect, softening their rock sound and smoothing out their rougher edges. This was not always appreciated by the band but, as Frey later said, “[Johns] was the key to our success in a lot of ways.”

Take It Easy opened the record and was also released as a single in May 1972, prior to the album’s release. With lead vocals by Frey, but with all members on harmony, the track is also notable for its double-time banjo parts, played by Bernie Leadon. “They all thought it was a bonkers idea but it worked,” Johns said. “It was already a great song, but that one little thing made it different.”

The legacy: “There was nothing mellow about us”

Take It Easy was obviously the world’s introduction to Eagles, and it seemed to suggest a relaxed, sunshine vibe. It was easy to pigeonhole the song as being only about cars, girls, and good weather. But listening closely to the lyrics reveals something more anxious at its heart; it feels more about the difficulty of relaxation in a country full of paranoia and stress. Take It Easy, in this context, sounds more like a rebellion than a pleasure.

“A lot of those early writers who said we were laidback, mellow, ‘the LA cowboys’, yada yada, all that crap – there was nothing mellow about us,” Don Henley said in 2015. “But that stuff stuck like glue.”

The city of Winslow, Arizona – namechecked in the song’s second verse – erected a statue in the song’s honour. In 2016, it was estimated that 100,000 people visit that corner annually. “It’s really crazy. People come here from all over the world,” an assistant at the souvenir shop across from the corner told The Washington Post. “They are in such awe of the place.”

It’s a tribute to Take It Easy’s presence in US culture. Eagles would go on to have many, many megahits, but there’s something about their debut single that sums up so much about that time, making it an enduring favourite. “I don’t know that we could have ever had a better opening song on our first album,” Frey has said. “Just those open chords felt like an announcement. ‘And now… the Eagles.’”

Buy ‘Take It To The Limit: The Essential Collection’, plus Eagles box sets, vinyl and more at the Dig! store.

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